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1.  Myasthenic syndrome AChRα C-loop mutant disrupts initiation of channel gating 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2012;122(7):2613-2621.
Congenital myasthenic syndromes (CMSs) are neuromuscular disorders that can be caused by defects in ace­tylcholine receptor (AChR) function. Disease-associated point mutants can reveal the unsuspected functional significance of mutated residues. We identified two pathogenic mutations in the extracellular domain of the AChR α subunit (AChRα) in a patient with myasthenic symptoms since birth: a V188M mutation in the C-loop and a heteroallelic G74C mutation in the main immunogenic region. The G74C mutation markedly reduced surface AChR expression in cultured cells, whereas the V188M mutant was expressed robustly but had severely impaired kinetics. Single-channel patch-clamp analysis indicated that V188M markedly decreased the apparent AChR channel opening rate and gating efficiency. Mutant cycle analysis of energetic coupling among conserved residues within or dispersed around the AChRα C-loop revealed that V188 is functionally linked to Y190 in the C-loop and to D200 in β-strand 10, which connects to the M1 transmembrane domain. Furthermore, V188M weakens inter-residue coupling of K145 in β-strand 7 with Y190 and with D200. Cumulatively, these results indicate that V188 of AChRα is part of an interdependent tetrad that contributes to rearrangement of the C-loop during the initial coupling of agonist binding to channel gating.
PMCID: PMC3386830  PMID: 22728938
2.  GFPT1-myasthenia 
Neurology  2013;81(4):370-378.
To identify patients with GFPT1-related limb-girdle myasthenia and analyze phenotypic consequences of the mutations.
We performed genetic analysis, histochemical, immunoblot, and ultrastructural studies and in vitro electrophysiologic analysis of neuromuscular transmission.
We identified 16 recessive mutations in GFPT1 in 11 patients, of which 12 are novel. Ten patients had slowly progressive limb-girdle weakness responsive to cholinergic agonists with onset between infancy and age 19 years. One patient (no. 6) harbored a nonsense mutation and a second mutation that disrupts the muscle-specific GFPT1 exon. This patient never moved in utero, was apneic and arthrogrypotic at birth, and was bedfast, tube-fed, and barely responded to therapy at age 6 years. Histochemical studies in 9 of 11 patients showed tubular aggregates in 6 and rimmed vacuoles in 3. Microelectrode studies of intercostal muscle endplates in 5 patients indicated reduced synaptic response to acetylcholine in 3 and severely reduced quantal release in patient 6. Endplate acetylcholine receptor content was moderately reduced in only one patient. The synaptic contacts were small and single or grape-like, and quantitative electron microscopy revealed hypoplastic endplate regions. Numerous muscle fibers of patient 6 contained myriad dilated and degenerate vesicular profiles, autophagic vacuoles, and bizarre apoptotic nuclei. Glycoprotein expression in muscle was absent in patient 6 and reduced in 5 others.
GFPT1-myasthenia is more heterogeneous than previously reported. Different parameters of neuromuscular transmission are variably affected. When disruption of muscle-specific isoform determines the phenotype, this has devastating clinical, pathologic, and biochemical consequences.
PMCID: PMC3772836  PMID: 23794683
3.  New horizons for congenital myasthenic syndromes 
During the past 5 years an increasing number of patients were diagnosed with congenital myasthenic syndromes (CMS) and a number of novel syndromes were recognized and investigated. This presentation focuses on the CMS caused by defects in choline acetyltransferase, novel fast-channel syndromes that hinder isomerization of the acetylcholine receptor from the closed to the open state, the consequences of deleterious mutations in the intermediate filament linker plectin, altered neuromuscular transmission in a centronuclear myopathy, and two recently identified CMS caused by congenital defects in glycosylation.
PMCID: PMC3546605  PMID: 23278578
congenital myasthenic syndromes; acetylcholine receptor; fast-channel syndromes; choline acetyltransferase; plectin; centronuclear myopathy; GFPT1; DPAGT1
4.  Highly fatal fast-channel syndrome caused by AChR ɛ subunit mutation at the agonist binding site 
Neurology  2012;79(5):449-454.
To characterize the molecular basis of a novel fast-channel congenital myasthenic syndrome.
We used the candidate gene approach to identify the pathogenic mutation in the acetylcholine receptor (AChR) ɛ subunit, genetically engineered the mutant AChR into HEK cells, and evaluated the level of expression and kinetic properties of the mutant receptor.
An 8-year-old boy born to consanguineous parents had severe myasthenic symptoms since birth. He is wheelchair bound and pyridostigmine therapy enables him to take only a few steps. Three similarly affected siblings died in infancy. He carries a homozygous p.W55R mutation at the α/ɛ subunit interface of the AChR agonist binding site. The mutant protein expresses well in HEK cells. Patch-clamp analysis of the mutant receptor expressed in HEK cells reveals 30-fold reduced apparent agonist affinity, 75-fold reduced apparent gating efficiency, and strikingly attenuated channel opening probability (Popen) over a range agonist concentrations.
Introduction of a cationic Arg into the anionic environment of α/ɛ AChR binding site hinders stabilization of cationic ACh by aromatic residues and accounts for the markedly perturbed kinetic properties of the receptor. The very low Popen explains the poor response to pyridostigmine and the high fatality of the disease.
PMCID: PMC3405251  PMID: 22592360
5.  Functional Consequences and Structural Interpretation of Mutations of Human Choline Acetyltransferase 
Human Mutation  2011;32(11):1259-1267.
Choline acetyltransferase (ChAT; EC catalyzes synthesis of acetylcholine from acetyl-CoA and choline in cholinergic neurons. Mutations in CHAT (MIM # 118490) cause potentially lethal congenital myasthenic syndromes associated with episodic apnea (ChAT-CMS) (MIM # 254210). Here we analyze the functional consequences of 12 missense and 1 nonsense mutations of CHAT in 11 patients. Nine of the mutations are novel. We examine expression of the recombinant missense mutants in Bosc 23 cells, determine their kinetic properties and thermal stability, and interpret the functional effects of 11 mutations in the context of the atomic structural model of human ChAT. Five mutations (p.Trp421Ser, p.Ser498Pro, p.Thr553Asn, p.Ala557Thr, p.Ser572Trp) reduce enzyme expression to <50% of wild-type. Mutations with severe kinetic effects are located in the active-site tunnel (p.Met202Arg, p.Thr553Asn and p.Ala557Thr) or adjacent to the substrate binding site (p.Ser572Trp), or exert their effect allosterically (p.Trp421Ser and p.Ile689Ser). Two mutations with milder kinetic effects (p.Val136Met, p.Ala235Thr) are also predicted to act allosterically. One mutation (p.Thr608Asn) below the nucleotide binding site of CoA enhances dissociation of AcCoA from the enzyme-substrate complex. Two mutations introducing a proline residue into an α-helix (p.Ser498Pro and p.Ser704Pro) impair the thermal stability of ChAT.
PMCID: PMC3196808  PMID: 21786365
Choline acetyltransferase; congenital myasthenic syndrome; enzyme kinetics; atomic structural model; thermal stability
6.  Further Observations in Congenital Myasthenic Syndromes 
During the past five years many patients suffering from congenital myasthenic syndromes (CMS) have been identified worldwide and novel causative genes and mutations have been discovered. The disease genes now include those encoding each subunit of the acetylcholine receptor (AChR), the ColQ part of acetylcholinesterase (AChE), choline acetyltransferase, Nav 1.4, MuSK, and Dok-7. Moreover, emerging genotype-phenotype correlations are providing clues for targeted mutation analysis. This review focuses on the recent observations in selected CMS.
PMCID: PMC3478107  PMID: 18567859
congenital myasthenic syndromes; acetylcholinesterase; choline acetyltransferase; acetylcholine receptor; Dok-7
Muscle & nerve  2011;44(2):289-291.
Mutations in the epsilon subunit of the acetylcholine receptor (AChR) are a common cause for congenital myasthenic syndrome (CMS). Patients are usually treated with acetylcholine esterase inhibitors and 3,4-diaminopyridine with modest clinical benefit. We report two patients with CMS due to mutations in the AChR epsilon subunit. The first patient carries two heterozygous frameshift mutations, ε127ins5 and ε1293insG. The second patient is homozygous for εC142Y mutation that curtails AChR expression to 22% of wild type in HEK cells. Treatment with pyridostigmine and 3,4 diaminopyridine had a limited beneficial effect in the first patient, and the second patient became wheelchair bound during therapy. The additional use of albuterol produced dramatic improvement in strength and in activities of daily living in both patients. The efficacy and safety of albuterol in patients who harbor identified low-expressor or null mutations in the epsilon or other subunits of AChR merits a well designed clinical trial.
PMCID: PMC3136566  PMID: 21721016
8.  Endplate Structure and Parameters of Neuromuscular Transmission in Sporadic Centronuclear Myopathy Associated with Myasthenia 
Neuromuscular disorders : NMD  2011;21(6):387-395.
Centronuclear myopathy is a pathologically diagnosed congenital myopathy. The disease genes encode proteins with membrane modulating properties (MTM1, DNM2, and BIN1) or alter excitation-contraction coupling (RYR1). Some patients also have myasthenic symptoms but electrodiagnostic and endplate studies in these are limited. A sporadic patient had fatigable weakness and a decremental EMG response. Analysis of centronuclear myopathy disease- and candidate- genes identified no mutations. Quantitative endplate structure and in vitro microelectrode studies revealed simplified postsynaptic regions, endplate remodeling with normal nerve terminal size, normal synaptic vesicle density, and mild acetylcholine receptor deficiency. The amplitude of the miniature endplate potential was decreased to 60% of normal. Quantal release by nerve impulse was reduced to 40% of normal due to a decreased number of releasable quanta. The safety margin of neuromuscular transmission is compromised by decreased quantal release by nerve impulse and by a reduced postsynaptic response to the released quanta.
PMCID: PMC3100385  PMID: 21482111
Centronuclear myopathy; neuromuscular junction; myasthenic syndrome; synaptic vesicle cycle
9.  What Have We Learned from the Congenital Myasthenic Syndromes 
The congenital myasthenic syndromes have now been traced to an array of molecular targets at the neuromuscular junction encoded by no fewer than 11 disease genes. The disease genes were identified by the candidate gene approach, using clues derived from clinical, electrophysiological, cytochemical, and ultrastructural features. For example, electrophysiologic studies in patients suffering from sudden episodes of apnea pointed to a defect in acetylcholine resynthesis and CHAT as the candidate gene (Ohno et al., Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 98:2017–2022–2001); refractoriness to anticholinesterase medications and partial or complete absence of acetylcholinesterase (AChE) from the endplates (EPs) has pointed to one of the two genes (COLQ and ACHET) encoding AChE, though mutations were observed only in COLQ. After a series of patients carrying mutations in a disease gene have been identified, the emerging genotype–phenotype correlations provided clues for targeted mutation analysis in other patients. Mutations in EP-specific proteins also prompted expression studies that proved pathogenicity, highlighted important functional domains of the abnormal proteins, and pointed to rational therapy.
PMCID: PMC3050586  PMID: 19688192
Congenital myasthenic syndromes; Acetylcholine esterase; Choline acetyltransferase; Acetylcholine receptor; Dok-7
10.  hnRNP H enhances skipping of a nonfunctional exon P3A in CHRNA1 and a mutation disrupting its binding causes congenital myasthenic syndrome 
Human Molecular Genetics  2008;17(24):4022-4035.
In humans and great apes, CHRNA1 encoding the muscle nicotinic acetylcholine receptor α subunit carries an inframe exon P3A, the inclusion of which yields a nonfunctional α subunit. In muscle, the P3A(−) and P3A(+) transcripts are generated in a 1:1 ratio but the functional significance and regulation of the alternative splicing remain elusive. An intronic mutation (IVS3-8G>A), identified in a patient with congenital myasthenic syndrome, disrupts an intronic splicing silencer (ISS) and results in exclusive inclusion of the downstream P3A exon. We found that the ISS-binding splicing trans-factor was heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein (hnRNP) H and the mutation attenuated the affinity of hnRNP for the ISS ∼100-fold. We next showed that direct placement of hnRNP H to the 3′ end of intron 3 silences, and siRNA-mediated downregulation of hnRNP H enhances recognition of exon P3A. Analysis of the human genome suggested that the hnRNPH-binding UGGG motif is overrepresented close to the 3′ ends of introns. Pursuing this clue, we showed that alternative exons of GRIP1, FAS, VPS13C and NRCAM are downregulated by hnRNP H. Our findings imply that the presence of the hnRNP H-binding motif close to the 3′ end of an intron is an essential but underestimated splicing regulator of the downstream exon.
PMCID: PMC2638575  PMID: 18806275
11.  Dok-7 Myasthenia: Phenotypic and Molecular Genetic Studies in 16 Patients 
Annals of neurology  2008;64(1):71-87.
Detailed analysis of phenotypic and molecular genetic aspects of Dok-7 myasthenia in 16 patients.
We assessed our patients by clinical and electromyographic studies, by intercostal muscle biopsies for in vitro microelectrode analysis of neuromuscular transmission and quantitative electron microscopy EM of 409 end plates (EPs), and by mutation analysis, and expression studies of the mutants.
The clinical spectrum varied from mild static limb-girdle weakness to severe generalized progressive disease. The synaptic contacts were single or multiple, and some, but not all, were small. In vitro microelectrode studies indicated variable decreases of the number of released quanta and of the synaptic response to acetylcholine; acetylcholine receptor (AChR) channel kinetics were normal. EM analysis demonstrated widespread and previously unrecognized destruction and remodeling of the EPs. Each patient carries 2 or more heteroallelic mutations: 11 in genomic DNA, 7 of which are novel; and 6 identifiable only in complementary DNA or cloned complementary DNA, 3 of which are novel. The pathogenicity of the mutations was confirmed by expression studies. Although the functions of Dok-7 include AChR β-subunit phosphorylation and maintaining AChR site density, patient EPs showed normal AChR β-subunit phosphorylation, and the AChR density on the remaining junctional folds appeared normal.
First, the clinical features of Dok-7 myasthenia are highly variable. Second, some mutations are complex and identifiable only in cloned complementary DNA. Third, Dok-7 is essential for maintaining not only the size but also the structural integrity of the EP. Fourth, the profound structural alterations at the EPs likely contribute importantly to the reduced safety margin of neuromuscular transmission.
PMCID: PMC2570015  PMID: 18626973
12.  Congenital myasthenia–related AChR δ subunit mutation interferes with intersubunit communication essential for channel gating 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2008;118(5):1867-1876.
Congenital myasthenias (CMs) arise from defects in neuromuscular junction–associated proteins. Deciphering the molecular bases of the CMs is required for therapy and illuminates structure-function relationships in these proteins. Here, we analyze the effects of a mutation in 1 of 4 homologous subunits in the AChR from a CM patient, a Leu to Pro mutation at position 42 of the δ subunit. The mutation is located in a region of contact between subunits required for rapid opening of the AChR channel and impedes the rate of channel opening. Substitutions of Gly, Lys, or Asp for δL42, or substitutions of Pro along the local protein chain, also slowed channel opening. Substitution of Pro for Leu in the ε subunit slowed opening, whereas this substitution had no effect in the β subunit and actually sped opening in the α subunit. Analyses of energetic coupling between residues at the subunit interface showed that δL42 is functionally linked to αT127, a key residue in the adjacent α subunit required for rapid channel opening. Thus, δL42 is part of an intersubunit network that enables ACh binding to rapidly open the AChR channel, which may be compromised in patients with CM.
PMCID: PMC2289798  PMID: 18398509
13.  Mutation causing severe myasthenia reveals functional asymmetry of AChR signature cystine loops in agonist binding and gating 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  2003;111(4):497-505.
We describe a highly disabling congenital myasthenic syndrome (CMS) associated with rapidly decaying, low-amplitude synaptic currents, and trace its cause to a valine to leucine mutation in the signature cystine loop (cys-loop) of the AChR α subunit. The recently solved crystal structure of an ACh-binding protein places the cys-loop at the junction between the extracellular ligand-binding and transmembrane domains where it may couple agonist binding to channel gating. We therefore analyzed the kinetics of ACh-induced single-channel currents to identify elementary steps in the receptor activation mechanism altered by the αV132L mutation. The analysis reveals that αV132L markedly impairs ACh binding to receptors in the resting closed state, decreasing binding affinity for the second binding step 30-fold, but attenuates gating efficiency only about twofold. By contrast, mutation of the equivalent valine residue in the δ subunit impairs channel gating approximately fourfold with little effect on ACh binding, while corresponding mutations in the β and ε subunits are without effect. The unique functional contribution of the α subunit cys-loop likely owes to its direct connection via a β strand to αW149 at the center of the ligand-binding domain. The overall findings reveal functional asymmetry between cys-loops of the different AChR subunits in contributing to ACh binding and channel gating.
PMCID: PMC151927  PMID: 12588888

Results 1-13 (13)